Several years ago, I spent a week in Thailand attending the Thai Cooking School at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. During that time, I became a real fan of the Thai soups. However, many of my favorites were made with coconut milk, and since coconut is such a highly saturated fat, it is not recommended as a part of a heart-healthy diet.

As soon as I returned home, I started experimenting with my new recipes, and when I realized I could quite easily fake this delightful texture and flavor by adding a very small amount of coconut extract to canned evaporated skim milk, I was thrilled. Recently, a friend brought me a large bunch of carrots just pulled out of his garden and I used them to make oneof the soups I remembered liking best when I was in Bangkok.I served this easy-to-make Thai-type soup for a group of friends last week, and all of them wanted the recipe. I decided the easiest way to give it to them was to share it with the rest of my readers in my column. This tasty soup can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. In Thailand, it is served with the meal, but I prefer to serve it as a first course. In fact, for a buffet party this time of year, it can be served in small glasses, cups or mugs rather than the traditional bowl.

GINGERED CARROT SOUP

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

1 piece, 2 inches long, lemon grass, finely chopped, optional

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds

2 cups fat-free chicken stock

1 can (12 ounces) evaporated skim milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet or soup kettle. Add the ginger, garlic and lemon grass and cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to sizzle, about 1 minute.

Add the carrots to the pan and mix well. Continue to cook, covered, over low heat for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the carrots can easily be pierced with a fork.

Allow to cool slightly and then spoon the mixture into a food processor. Add the stock and blend until smooth. Slowly add all remaining ingredients and blend until well mixed.

Makes 8 servings

- Each 3/4-cup serving contains approximately: 105 calories; 2 gm fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 173 mg sodium; 18 gm carbohydrates; 5 gm protein.